Rooms

I close my hallway office door behind me.  Fourteen steps down the hall before the left turn and another seven steps to the side door.  I emerge in the bright sunlight of a Santa Barbara afternoon and pass by the playground.  Years and years and years ago it was part of a congregational pre-school, but now the children that scream and swing there are students with a separate Christian school that are tenants on our property.

I pass by the church van and kick the seed pod-thingies from the massive tree overhead.  I weave through two rows of parked cars, staff and visitor vehicles for the senior living center next door to us.  They’ve recently planted new roses and put in a fence, so I can’t take the shortest route down the small dusty hill, but instead have to walk a bit further to take four or five steps down to their side street.  I check for traffic both ways as not everyone obeys the 12 MPH posted speed limit.  I head right and up a short set of stairs and into an outdoor corridor for the senior living center.

The first door on my left I have thus passed for at least the last four years.  I remember it because the name on it is the same name as a famous celebrity who passed away earlier this year.  I always wonder, what if that’s his mother, living alone in this small, obscure apartment?  What an interesting connection that would be, a peculiar brush with greatness a far shade subtler than the culture of texts and pics and social media that swallows so much attention and time and money these days.

Sometimes the door would be open, and the screen door shut, and I could surreptitiously peek in as I walked by.  If I caught a glimpse of the person who lived there, would they resemble that famous celebrity?  There was never time to really get a good look inside, but I could see an easy chair and a coffee table, simple, tasteful.

What is their life like, I wonder?  Where have they gone, what have the seen?  Who have they loved and who have they lost?  Do their children – even the famous one – come to see them?  Do they see their grandchildren?  Do they paint or did they used to like to cook?  Where did they wish upon stars as a child, and what regrets shuffle a half-pace behind them in their small apartment?  Did they like to fly kites?  Did they leap out of bed in the morning or reluctantly force themselves to bed in the wee hours of the night?  Did they like it when their eyelids were kissed, and were they a hand-holder or someone who hates it because it makes your hand clammy and sweaty?

An entire life, a mini-universe bound together in this one person’s identity, and what an amazing thing it would be to explore, to bound through the nebulae and constellations, to see and smell and taste and feel for a bit what they have seen and smelled and tasted and felt, to experience a fraction of my universe through their experience of it.  To sift for possible overlaps and unknown correlations, while reveling in the uniqueness and vast, simple, differences of it all.

I walked by today and the name tag was off the front of the door.  Did they move?  Did they, like many others in that place who bide their time and wait carefully, finally get summoned from their waiting rooms into the Great Beyond?  A name plate gone from a door and a universe winks out of existence, more lost to me than if I had never know it existed there, just a few paces away, separated by a flimsy screen door and the iron portcullis of politeness and social convention and shyness.  A name plate gone from a door, and I mourn for all that I imagined could have been and all that actually was.  No further questions to be pondered, no further glimpses into the softly shuffling life of that faceless person who shared a name – and perhaps nothing else – with greatness.

An hour later I walk back, through the outdoor corridor, past the shut and nameless apartment door, across the road and up the steps and across the parking lot and through the side door and then seven steps ahead and then right for 14 steps to the key in the lock of my own door, which I quietly close behind me on billions of other universes leaving me alone – for a time – with my own.

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